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The logical failure of the 2017 CBI Education & Skills Survey

Like any membership lobbying organisation, the CBI support their members to make them look as good as possible and promote the greater value of and worth of business to society. They have their work cut out, surveys show that the general public is distrustful with less than half believing British businesses act ethically, so their annual survey of business leaders (The CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey) is a chance to shift the focus elsewhere.

The 2017 iteration is drawn from an online questionnaire completed by 344 employers. (It is worth comparing at the outset this methodology against other recent employer surveys such as the recent DfE Employer perspective survey (which I blogged on here) which was drawn from telephone interviews with over 18,000 establishments across the labour market including non-profit organisations but more on that later).

The scale of employer engagement in education is an important topic with the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) tasked with expanding this work to improve CEIAG provision and so prove the research evidence of the benefits to be gained for students. Future qualification and pathway policy is also heavily geared towards gaining employer buy in and engagement. This means that establishing a base point of employer engagement is vital in judging progress and knowing where to target resources. The CEC has already made progress in this area with their Cold Spots research. Using a range of data points and sources, this shows that outcomes for young people (much like HE progression and academic achievement rates) varies greatly across the different regions of the UK.

coldspots1

One of the data points used to model the amount of employer engagement is the UKCES Employer Perspectives Survey 2014. This is the preceding biannual release of the DfE Employer Perspective Survey mentioned above before the closure of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in March 2017 which the DfE then took over.

That the CEC is using this data on employer engagement and not information published by the CBI is the first hint that the two sources on employer engagement tell very different tales.

The CBI survey offers useful views on the value business leaders places on their required skills from school leavers

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plus their satisfaction on school leaver skill levels

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and a plea for more young people to be speakers of foreign languages (page 34). The Employer Perspectives survey meanwhile does not break down employer satisfaction with school leavers into skill areas but by age of recruits (fig 3.7) so comparisons are difficult but, at all ages, it found employers were more satisfied than dissatisfied with the skill levels of their young recruits.

The survey begins to raise eyebrows though with the claims of employer engagement with education including the number of firms that offer work experience. Let’s remind ourselves what the 2017 Employer Perspectives Survey reported,

  • That 65% of employers thought that relevant work experience is a critical or significant factor when taking on a recruit but only 38% of employers had offered a work experience opportunity in the past 12 months
  • There is a huge variation between the sectors that offer work experience (fig 3.9)
  • Only 10% of employers offered work inspiration activities to students

This differs drastically to the findings of the CBI Survey that 81% of employers had some links with education

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and that these links were “extensive in all parts of the UK.” Not only is this claim widely divergent with the finding from a methodologically more detailed and comprehensive survey, it also undermines the very basis on which the CEC has prioritised its work across the country. Regarding employer links with education, the CBI says there are no cold spots.

The differences continue in the value of work experience with only 23% of businesses reporting that relevant work experience is an “important” factor when recruiting a young person (fig 2.1 pictured above) which is well below the 65% of employers reporting similar in the Employer Perspectives Survey. There is also a lack of consistency of expectations in the CBI results with employers also stating that 54% were not satisfied with school leavers relevant work experience (fig 2.3 pictured above). Why would employers be unsatisfied with something they’ve also deemed not important to recruitment?

The data on the types of provision employers offer through their links with schools is couched in a presentational sleight of hand as the percentages are offered as percentages of those business who have education links, not a percentage of the total businesses. Thus

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So the CBI is not claiming that 81% of employers provide careers advice talks but that 81% of the 81% with links to education provide careers advice talks. Because we have the total numbers of employers the CBI received responses from (344) we can work this back – 81% of 344 = 279, 81% of 279 = 225, 225 divided by 344 = the CBI is actually reporting that 65% of employers offer careers advice talks. The Employer Perspectives Survey concluded that just 10% of employers offer careers inspirations activities including careers talks.

The differences between the two surveys continue when discussing work experience. The CBI concludes (using the same method above) that around 63% of employers offer work experience placements. The Employer Perspectives Survey reported 38% of employers offered placements and that differences between industries can be stark.

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The CBI survey also includes business views on both the work of the CEC and the current state of CEIAG provision. They find that the CEC still has plenty of scope to increase their connections with business as only 7% of respondents were engaged with the Company.

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That 79% businesses were unaware of the work of the CEC is not surprising when you also consider that only 28% of employers are aware of the new GCSE grading system.

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The CBI though are wholly positive about the need and remit of the CEC

The CBI fully supports their work which has a focus on practical, enabling solutions.

and

Underpinned by sufficient resources, the CEC should play a major role in England in
supporting schools and businesses to develop productive relationships to the benefit of young people.

but the views of the businesses surveyed are extremely negative about the quality of CEIAG provision

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84% of businesses reporting that Careers advice is not good enough is an overwhelming verdict but also similar percentage to the four previous survey results show in 3.16. The CBI goes strong on its verdict on current Careers provision

These are seriously troubling results. They highlight the urgent need for radical improvement.

This all adds up to a muddled picture offered by the CBI.

They and the employers they surveyed are claiming that 81% of business have links with schools across the country, 65% offer careers advice talks and 63% offer work experience placements. This equates to a large-scale engagement with education yet, it is these same employers from whom 79% had not heard of the work of the CEC. It is from these same employers that less than a third were aware of the introduction of whole new GCSEs and grading systems. The same employers who are engaged with education to offer huge amounts of careers provision but 84% of them also reported unsatisfaction with the Careers advice offered. The solution offered by the CBI to change these views? More engagement with education through the CEC.

Establishing hard quantitative data on employer engagement is not easy as previous studies have shown. Using only limited survey data though can mean results with the failures of logic shown above. The CBI cannot continue to claim that the majority of employers are playing their part in provision only to then be overwhelmingly critical of the scale, quality and outcomes of that provision.

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Employer Perspectives Survey 2016

Preparing young people for the world of work is a task that cannot be attempted without the world of work on board. By offering advice and guidance or by actually getting their hands dirty and offering provision for schools and young people to engage with, employers have a vital role to play. Which is why large-scale surveys on employer engagement with young people, their views on the skills capabilities of young people as potential employees and their participation in (supposedly) youth employment routes such as apprenticeships can offer valuable insights.

I’ve posted before to show that surveys of this kind can throw up a wide range of results and that the strategic goals of the organisation behind the survey should always be born in mind. Plenty of previous surveys with smaller survey cohorts have been critical of the level of skills held by school leavers entering the workplace while the survey that, traditionally, has shown results much more positive regarding skills levels has been the UKCES biennial Employer Perspectives survey. After the closure of UKCES, the responsibility of running this survey has transferred to the DfE with support from BEiS and DwP and the 2016 results were published this week. As ever, it’s fascinating in its picture of the UK skills map and how CEIAG is working within that. It’s also worth noting that the scale of the survey is impressive with over 18,000 employers across the UK interviewed.

Firstly, employers are still mainly pleased with the prepardness of young people for work but that, percentage rates have fallen slightly since 2014 but these figures are still much higher than the usual doom and gloom of other reports. It is also the case that, in the eyes of employers, older education leavers are still more preparded for the challenges of the workplace.

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It is in other sections of the report that there are some startling headline figures (page 13):

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The gap between employers expectation for young people to have work experience on their CV and those actually offering work experience placements is still huge. It’s also clear that the parts of the labour market most closely working with young people are those offering the most placements. As anybody who has run a work experience scheme in a school knows, placements are schools are easy to come by and colleagues will do their utmost to help while placements in more sort after industries are gold dust.

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For all of their initiatives such as Open Doors, the amount of placements offered by the Construction industry is woefully short of what is needed.

This picture of weak engagement is also apparent in the number of employers involved in work inspiration activities other than placements with, again, Construction a particularly poor performing area.

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It’s clear that getting involved with such provision is proving more difficult for smaller firms and reasons why employers do not offer placements was collected

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Being aware of these and the more positive reasons for offering placements (doing our bit, Corporate Social Responsibility policy, a recruitment strategy – page 70) and tailoring your approaches to employers when requesting placements should be a strategy for all schools and colleges.

Overall these figures are in stark contrast to the far more positive picture of employer engagement painted by employer bodies such as the CBI. Their assertion that “over 80% of employers work with schools”  is, frankly, risible in comparison and shows the task ahead of the Careers & Enterprise company when scaling up their engagement initiatives.

Elsewhere in the Survey findings are other nuggets of interest. At the time of writing, Apprenticeship policy in the UK is in a state of flux as the official position is still to create 3 million apprenticeships over the course of the parliament but the ongoing changes to Levy and Standards policy are causing fluctuations in the numbers of vacancies being advertised.

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The (slow) rise in the number of employers taking on apprentices is encouraging but this growth needs to accelerate if this route is to become a realistic competitor to Higher Education for young people. The future plans of employers (page 155), if enacted, would correlate to a rise of 21% of employers offering apprenticeships within the next 12 months but the Conclusions section states (from page 159) that a much greater engagement from employers with apprenticeships is needed to meet current targets.

Allied to this point is the data regarding the recruitment methods used by firms when hiring young people. The results are clear on the importance and of social capital and networks and the advantages gained by young people entering the job market with these benefits. Alongside more formal methods of applying for work, contacts can still be key and this evidence fits with published research in this area.

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It shows that, despite the scale of the task ahead of them, the work of the CEC is vital and needed. In Conclusion the Survey states (page 160)

Developing forms of work experience and work inspiration that genuinely respond to employers’ needs to develop and access experienced new recruits continues to offer potential as a step in improving individuals’ entry to the labour market

and it is the solution to this issue that the CEC must find.

When is experience of the world of work, actually experience of the world of work?

Any business that invests time, staff commitment and funding into careers related activities should be applauded and encouraged by those of us keen to engage. Most engagement activities usually fall into a well versed range of formats of interaction (from p20) that fit with the time and schedule commitments both parties are able to invest so new ideas and resources are always intriguing. This is why I noticed the launch of “The World’s first immersive work experience simulator: The LifeSkills Pod” from Barclays last week.

 

As a whole, the Lifeskills program is an outstanding corporate effort to offer young people insights into employability. I find the lesson plans very good and adaptable, the site offers applicable advice for young people, the ability to secure actual work experience placements is great and the backing they have received means they have been able to spread the word to parents as well through TV advertising.

The Lifeskills Pod looks like huge fun for students and the launch gained an enormous (for a careers resource) amount of press coverage in national titles such as the Guardian, the local press and digital focused publications. In all of those write ups, alongside the main positive PR message, journalists can’t also help but draw the conclusion that this resource only exists due to the insufficient number of work experience opportunities for students. The Careers leader of the school involved in the launch is quoted as voicing a problem all careers practitioners will be familiar with,

It was difficult to find quality work experience placements for the 270 students in the year group, said Simon Beck, the assistant head teacher of Lister Community school, with some students reporting they only made tea and had not gained any useful skills.

As a result, the school scrapped the work experience placement scheme and replaced it with a world of work week.

which is a fine solution but, ultimately, doesn’t help confront the problem of the mismatch between the demand for work experience and the scarcity of opportunities on offer to young people.

The demand from employers for prospective employees to have work experience completely exceeds the number of employers who actually offer work experience and that is even before the quality of the work experience placements on offer is considered. This conundrum was best highlighted by Sarah O’Connor writing in the FT about the Pod’s launch (for those without an FT log in, a screen shot is here).

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills, a government-funded organisation, surveyed 18,000 employers last year and found that 80 per cent offered no work experience placements to schools. Yet two-thirds said work experience was the most critical factor when they recruit.

At which point we should ask how does the experience of the Lifeskills Pod measure up against the learning opportunities that real life work experience offers and where does it fit in the full range of “experience of the world of work” activities?

Vs actual work experience

In the Pod, students watch pre-recorded video on a TV screen, choose from a multiple choice set of actions to resolve an issue and interact with a large touch screen in a small room for around ten minutes. Many of the learning opportunities we would all recognise from traditional work experience are absent from this, the young person takes no responsibility for planning their journey to work to arrive on time, they do not learn to cope with the tiredness that comes from a longer working day, they do not see how colleagues interact with each other in professional situations, they do not have to adapt their body language to cope with different interactions etc. The feedback from the students in all of the articles indicates that they felt the virtual situations made them think about the professional course of action in each short scenario and is clearly positive but I fear that this does not mean that the experience was substantive enough to qualify as “work experience.” How much value, for example, would a prospective future employer confer to the inclusion of “attended a Lifeskills Pod session” on a CV compared to an actual period of work experience?

Vs “experience of the world of work”

If the Pod does not attempt to realistically mirror work experience, does it then offer students the benefits of experiencing the world of work similar to some of the other activities linked to above? The research from the Education & Employers Taskforce is useful here because it considers all experiences of the world of work and offers the Employer Engagement Cycle as a way of describing those benefits. For example the Pod could offer students the chance to improve their confidence and practice skills desired by employers in a low pressure environment that would enhance their Human capital skills. As the evidence from the Education & Employers Taskforce suggests though, the impact short, episodic, non assessed employer engagement experiences offer is considered to have little benefit to individuals. Where the real benefit from such experience comes from is in the Social and Cultural capital sections. The human networks gained from actual work experience are missing from the Pod experience, there is no individually tailored advice or interactions with older colleagues whose voices are seen as ‘authentic’ and there is no human link made to call back on for a reference or further opportunities later on in the student’s progression.

The media reporting of the launch is reductive but clearly positions the resource as a replacement for work experience rather than an employability resource.

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which is over-reaching the gains of the activity and, again, only highlights why such a resource would be needed in the first place, as O’Connor notes in the FT

The simulator is a nifty idea, but it is also a sign that too many employers are doing too little for the next generation.

The use of a range of employer engagement activities to supplement and support work experience is best practice careers work and advocated by all stakeholders in the sector such as the CDI and the Gatsby Foundation. It is the foundation of such initiatives as the London 100 hours challenge and offers both education providers and employers the greatest flexibility to get involved. Within the range of this engagement comes though a responsibility to properly signal what all stakeholders can expect from each activity. Overselling or overreaching the experience, benefits or likely outcomes of a resource or activity is only likely to lead to the perceived ‘gap’ in employability skills widening and stakeholders retracting from those activities which do require significant commitment such as actual work experience.

Which all means the Pod should be considered as a resource much like any other virtual, online careers experience. Used with students alongside a range of other activities (such as in the “world of work” week mentioned above) the Pod is a fantastically exciting resource, but this does not mean it should be seen as a solution for the lack of work experience placements currently offered by UK businesses to schools.

More Careers inquiry fandango

Recent weeks have seen not one but two sessions on CEIAG held by the joint Education & Business sub-committee. In fact, due to Ministerial illness, a third is soon to come. What a time to be alive.

The first session, with witnesses from the CDI, Careers England, AELP and the West Midlands LEP, was not broadcast as it was held away from the Westminster estate so only a written record has been published while the second session, with witnesses from the Careers Enterprise Company, the National Careers Service and Ofsted, is online for your viewing pleasure.

Across these two sessions there’s a couple of things which peaked my interest.

  1. The CDI are treading very carefully around the funding issue

Suggesting that HE Widening Participation funds be funneled off to help fund careers support might be an idea with merit and fit as a solution to the dropout data but asking funding to be directed from another strand of the social mobility levers isn’t without downsides. Careers work with young people is something that a Government should see as a stand alone good and fund as such. In the current climate, asking Government for cash is a sure fire way to be swiftly shown the meeting room exit door which makes persuasion harder but it shouldn’t be dodged because of this.

The confusion over strategic funding ideals and what this funding gets spent on (see point 5) is also exacerbated by the strong call from all witnesses for Careers Quality Marks to be an integral part of any recommendations put forward by the Committee. This would come with a significant cost for schools currently under huge financial pressure (plus the forthcoming evidence toolkit will surely weaken the argument for quality awards even further, but that’s another blog). The issue of funding needs a joined up message from the CDI and not left to other unions.

2. The National Careers Service offer for young people isn’t being held to account 

Around the 16.30pm mark Joe Billington, the Director of the National Careers Service, is asked how many young people have used the phone service but the conversation is diverted and the answer never comes. The most recent data shows that just 4% of the 25,000 telephone users of the service were 19 or under (page 19). That isn’t enough.

3. Generally, the MPs didn’t seem very well briefed

Around the 16.38pm mark, a number of the MP’s seem shocked to learn that a wealth of data on skills mismatches and employer views on the employability of young people was already readily available even before the Careers Enterprise Company used it to form their “cold spots” map. Both the UKCES Employer Perspectives survey and the annual Employer Skills survey have this information in droves. That these MPs, on this specific sub-committee, looking at this specific issue, were not aware of this is baffling. Amanda Milling MP then goes onto ask about the interaction between business and schools, it’s true that a lot has been published on this subject but, at the very least, could she not be aware of the work from the department she is meant to be scrutinising?

4. Relying on Ofsted to be the all knowing overseer of careers work in schools is a busted flush

They don’t have the time, the capacity nor the inspection framework to do it. It isn’t happening on the scale it needs to now and, with the ongoing move to a school lead system and a new Chief Inspector to be appointed, won’t in the future.

5. This is a lot of strategic stuff without asking, “Day to day, who’s talking to young people?”

For all of this talk about “umbrella” organisations, Quality Marks and websites not a lot of time or attention seems to be focused on who is actually going to enabling this provision for and with young people. To their credit, the CDI are clear in their expectation of suitable CPD and qualification status for professionals and the work of the Careers Enterprise company will help provision levels. Helping schools focus on, fund and find time for careers work to happen seems to be the roll your sleeves up work though nobody wants to roll their sleeves up for.

Side note – If I was a tinfoil hat wearing type I would also note that, last year, the revamped careers duty for schools was released on the 25th March and the Guidance the year before that on April 14. Postponing the Ministerial witness session to beyond those dates this year could allow them to appear in front of the Committee with a new document to offer.

 

The narrative around schools and apprenticeships needs to change

In an Ofsted report about Apprenticeships that pulls no punches in appropriating blame across stakeholders, careers advice in schools has taken (yet another) admonishing for not “promoting” apprenticeships.

There are still far too few 16- to 18-year-olds starting an apprenticeship. Recruitment onto apprenticeships for young people in this age range has remained static for more than a decade. Interviews with apprentices and evidence from secondary school inspections in 2014/15 showed that schools’ poor promotion of apprenticeships is depriving pupils and their parents of information about the full range of options available through the apprenticeship route. Secondary schools are still not doing enough to promote apprenticeships to young people. Inspectors found that careers advice and guidance were not sufficiently detailed and too few pupils experienced high-quality work experience as part of their compulsory education.

So far, so heard it all before. The accepted narrative goes that apprenticeships are a well-kept secret, a route that thousands of young people would happily opt for if only they knew about them and it’s mean-spirited schools that are keeping a lid on all this goodness so that school leavers stay in their sixth forms and kept the funding dollars rolling in.

So, if that were the whole story, it would mean…

Apprenticeships are all great

The main focus of the report looks at the quality of apprenticeships and tries to offer balance by being clear on the benefits of good apprenticeships and how much young people value them

 The most successful apprenticeships seen were for young people aged 16 to 24, especially in motor vehicle, engineering and construction – sectors that have historically relied on apprenticeships for their future skilled workforce. Younger apprentices working in these sectors told inspectors that their apprenticeships were enabling them to forge a new career, with increasingly challenging tasks as their apprenticeship progressed.

but also draws attention to the large numbers of poor quality ones as well

The quality of the apprenticeship provision reviewed during this survey was too variable and often poor. Some apprenticeships were of a high quality and provided young people with good training that enabled them to develop new skills and knowledge in specialist vocational areas. However, too much provision was weak and failed to provide sufficient training to develop substantial new skills

Ofsted found that in a third of the 45 providers they visited, apprenticeships were not of a sufficient quality. Four of the 8 independent training providers and four of the 10 colleges they visited provided too little training for learners. In 7 of the weaker providers, inspectors found apprenticeships that fell below national funding requirements.

No 16-18 year olds bother applying for them

Nope. Mentioned in the report itself is the fact that

Nationally, considerably more 16- to 18-year-olds apply for apprenticeships than those aged 25 and over, but far fewer become apprentices.

as

Under 19s made 56% of applications but only 27% of starts; 25+ made 7% of applications but 37% of starts (in 2014)

the reasons given for this disparity in the numbers actually taken on by employers is that

When asked why they did not recruit more 16- to 24-year-old apprentices, nearly a quarter of employers who responded said that young people did not have the basic skills, attitudes and behaviours required for work. Additionally, the employers interviewed frequently said that they were reluctant to take a young apprentice straight from school. Two factors dominated their rationale for this.

They believed too many 16-year-old school leavers lacked personal presentation and communication skills, or gave the impression at interview that they were immature and unreliable.

They recognised that employing an apprentice required a significant investment in time to train them in the generic employability skills and did not feel they could afford this.

and that employers were too keen on taking Government funding to accredit existing training schemes for the over 25s.

The ones that are informed enough to apply must have the pick of the quality roles then

Nope

The number of both registrations and applications from the under 19 age group has always vastly outnumbered the vacancies on offer and (in 13/14) just 2% of apprenticeship starts were at the Higher level (page 7).

The story needs to move on

The simple narrative that the problems that beset 16-19 Apprenticeships are a “demand” problem are wide of the mark. From the data above and this report we could conclude that the two intertwining factors that are now putting the brakes on what should be a fantastic pathway are:

  1. Too many of the applicants (and their applications) are not up to the standard employers demand
  2. The entrenched views that employers have on youngsters work readiness means they are unwilling to consider committing the time and effort into possible candidates from that age group

This perceived (and in many cases actual) lack of employability skills of students is an issue careers education (including employer input) should be stepping up to the mark to solve. Elsewhere in the report Ofsted cites UKCES survey findings that only 18% of UK businesses were involved in any work inspiration activities (p134) (while only 16% offer any sort of apprenticeships (p 149). Other research into school & business interaction has found a range of figures. The issues around CEIAG over the past few years have been detailed in-depth across the sector not least on this blog. The small numbers of 16-19 year olds successfully applying for apprenticeships is the outcome of both of these scenarios.

In the meantime, what am I promoting to young people?

Currently, a route that is highly competitive, that offers a slim chance of successfully achieving their goal and, in too many cases, a goal that isn’t even what it says on the tin.

In short, until the quality and quantity of apprenticeships realistically available to the 16-19 age group increases and the level of CEIAG provision also improves in quality, there are going to be many times when conversations in schools about apprenticeships are in danger of doing a good impression of this:

Just what is the truth about the scale of school + business interaction?

Education is like all other areas of public policy in that there are always plenty of people offering plenty of solutions. As any practitioner in the field will tell you, many of those suggested solutions can take more inspiration from the ideals of the proposer rather than the actual state of affairs on the ground and, sometimes, even getting a clear enough picture of the state of affairs on the ground can be tricky enough.

With this in mind I thought it would be useful to compare and contrast five (semi) recent surveys and reports that are actually attempting to do just that in regard to the scale and scope of the links currently held between schools and the world of business. This is a hot policy potato with the Government having already prescribed the medicine with early steps of the newly formed £20m Careers Company expected in September.

So, what do we think we know:

1. REPORT: Inspiring Growth: Pearson/CBI Education & Skills Survey 2015

SCALE: “The survey was conducted online in the spring of 2015. Useable responses were received from 310 employers”

HEADLINE STATISTICS: 

The positive balance of firms expecting to need more employees with higher skills stands at +65% in 2015

55% Employers not confident of being able to recruit sufficient high-skilled employees in the future

Around two thirds (66%) of the businesses responding to this survey are involved in apprenticeships

By far the most important factors employers weigh up when recruiting school and college leavers are attitudes (85%) and aptitudes (58%). These rank well ahead of formal qualifications

A majority of businesses remain concerned about the preparation of school leavers in important areas including business and customer awareness (66%), self-management (61%) and foreign language skills (60%)

Across respondents as a whole, three quarters (73%) have at least some links with schools or colleges, with connections most widespread between businesses and secondary schools (55%) and FE colleges (53%)

The biggest obstacles to extending and deepening business involvement are uncertainty over how to make work experience worthwhile (28%), lack of interest among schools or pupils (25%) and problems in fitting involvement with the school timetable (23%)

Among employers with links to schools and colleges, the two most common forms of support are offering work experience placements (74%) and providing careers advice and talks (71%).

The overwhelming majority of employers believe the quality of careers advice for young people is not good enough (by a balance of -70%)

Nearly two thirds of businesses (60%) report that they are willing to play a greater role in supporting careers provision in schools and colleges.

SUMMARY QUOTES: 

Katja Hall – Deputy Director General CBI

“Of course, the long-term solution to the skills challenge lies in education, and some of the reforms in recent years have brought improvements. But we still have a system where too many young people are allowed to fall behind and never catch up. The system must change, with more focus on developing the aptitudes and attributes that set young people up for success in both work and life – which matter much more to employers when recruiting than academic results alone.

More and more businesses are playing their part – engaging with schools, colleges and universities and investing in workforce training – though there is a need for more. But government at all levels also needs to raise its game in helping young people to develop the higher skills and workplace readiness that are increasingly necessary to ensure a prosperous future for them and for the UK as a whole.”

COMMENT:

As you would expect from the CBI, this is a document that places high demands and expectations on the public sector while also showing its members in the private sector in the best possible light. Considering that, in England, around only 8% of employers offer apprenticeships, the fact that 66% of respondents to this survey are “involved” shows how selective the base of employers involved here was. The expectations and demands on the education sector are in many cases clear and sensible but the bemoaning of too many students not achieving C grades or above in either English or Maths shows a clear lack of understanding of how Ofqual’s comparable outcomes system works. The clear messages from the results show employers are frustrated with the overwhelming focus on qualifications to the detriment of soft skills they value even more should be very useful to add more power to the elbow of those pushing for a more rounded approach from school leaders. Also the percentage of respondents who are already involved and wish to increase their involvement in schools is very positive.

2. REPORT: Mapping careers provision in schools & colleges in England DfE July 2015 research report

SCALE: In total, there were 107 responses to the survey, a response rate of 21%. The response came from a range of providers: 34 schools with sixth forms, 34 schools without sixth forms and 39 further education providers.

HEADLINE STATISTICS:

Schools without sixth forms were more likely to offer work experience to Years 10 to 11 (88%) compared to schools with sixth forms (74%) and more colleges provided work experience to Years 12 and 13 (90%) compared to schools with sixth forms (71%)

Lecturer or industry specialist visits were more commonly used for Years 10 to 11 in schools without sixth forms (94%, versus 77% of schools with sixth forms)

The majority (88%) of respondents reported that students received skills development or employability education (e.g. time management, interview preparation) in the form of lessons/class time.

methods for contacting people who work july 2015

In terms of creating formal arrangements with employers for work experience, the response was mixed. Over half of respondents said that their institution did not have these in place (54%), with the remainder (46%) stating that they did have such arrangements with employers.

SUMMARY QUOTES:

Budget limitations were most commonly reported to be a key challenge to providing excellent careers provision that meets the needs of staff, students and parents/carers.

Nearly all institutions helped students to gain contact with employers to learn about careers/jobs. This was through a range of methods, common ones being, external employer speakers, lecturers or industry specialists visiting schools/colleges, workplace visits and work experience. These links were more likely to be offered to older year groups (Year 10 onwards). Some institutions did not use these methods at all, 13% said they did not provide workplace visits and 8% said they did not provide work experience

COMMENTS:

If the findings from the CBI data are potentially skewed by the small number of already invested respondents, then this report is even more in danger of falling into that trap. To be fair, it is something the authors are at pains to point out throughout the document,

As with any self-reported assessment, we should exercise a degree of caution as to whether the respondents would have a particularly positive or representative view of the provision within their school, since careers guidance was a significant part of their job.

Even with these dangers of too positive a response, this did not dissuade the TES in finding a negative slant in their story on it.

With these large caveats there are some positive figures, the survival of KS4 work experience surprised me and the range of employer interaction is great to see, but ultimately I am extremely hesitant about standing firm on any of the results as a stand alone piece of work.

3. REPORT: CDI Survey of Career Education and Guidance in Schools and Links with Employers May 2015

SCALE: From an online survey: “A total of 319 responses were received, which represents 10% of all secondary schools in England. Just under a half (46%) were from academies with a sixth form and a further 10% were from academies without a sixth form; 27% were from local authority maintained schools (16% with a sixth form, 11% without a sixth form); eight percent of the responses were from independent schools. The remaining responses came from special schools (5), sixth form colleges (5), UTCs (3) and a studio school, free schools (2) and a pupil referral unit.”

Although some questions did have a large percentage of non responses.

HEADLINE STATISTICS:

24% of respondents used a member of staff, more often someone who was not a teacher. Five schools responded to say that they did not provide access to impartial career guidance and a further 24% of respondents skipped this question in the survey.

66% of respondents reported that the person providing impartial career guidance held a recognised professional qualification in career guidance, but in only 57% of cases was the qualification at QCF Level 6 or above

17% of all respondents used a local or regional education-business partnership (EBP) to help broker links with employers and 32% used Inspiring the Future or other link organisations.Over 40% of respondents said they organised all the links themselves, and 35% omitted to respond to the question.

In 56% of respondents a member of the senior leadership group had overall responsibility for career education and guidance but in only 35% was there a senior leader with overall responsibility for school-business links.

37% of respondents reported having a link governor for careers and employer links.

SUMMARY QUOTES:

From the press release:

Worryingly, the survey indicates that now career education is no longer compulsory, up to a third of schools have dropped it from the curriculum, and a larger proportion have no career education in the early years of secondary education

Many, but by no means all, schools are making impartial career guidance available to at least those students identified as needing support but in over 40% of the schools that responded to the survey the interviews are not provided by an adviser qualified to Level 6.

Schools are providing a wide range of employer activities but many would welcome more support with identifying relevant contacts and organising activities.

COMMENTS:

Like Report number 2, this includes responses from only the education side of the fence but still strikes a better balance between highlighting some positive work (the range of employer interaction) and voicing concerns about the outcomes that they disapprove of (the falling amount of dedicated careers education time and the number of practitioners not qualified to Level 6 standard). The high percentage of non responses to some questions does cause me to pause though. It is a natural tendency to assume that a lack of a submitted answer means the respondent did not want to include a negative truth but as the aims of the survey are to, “inform the work of the new independent careers and enterprise company recently established by the Department for Education (DfE) as it prepares its initial work plan” getting this right is a must. The Careers Company has the relatively meager budget of £20m to make an impact and allocating its resources should rely on more than assumptions. Again, like Report 2, the results are better placed as part of a wider context.

4. REPORT: Understanding the link between employers and schools and the role of the National Careers Service – BiS December 2014

SCALE: Survey data were collected from 301 employers and from 98 educational establishments (78 schools and 20 colleges). Whilst the sampling was not representative, data provide vivid indications of patterns and trends illustrative of the types of interactions currently existing between schools and employers. Survey data were supplemented by in-depth interviews with career representatives in 12 schools/colleges selected from the survey sample. Additionally, six case studies were undertaken on schools/colleges from the sample of 12 to provide detailed examples of good practice

HEADLINE STATISTICS:

employer engagement bis report Dec 2014

school engagement with employers Dec 2014

SUMMARY QUOTES:

Of all employers surveyed, nearly half had previously been engaged with schools/ colleges. Employers who offered apprenticeship or other types of training to young people were more likely to engage with schools/colleges and there is some evidence that larger companies were more likely to engage with schools/colleges than smaller companies. The most frequently mentioned types of engagement were work experience and/or visits from school or college students. Altruistic reasons were the most important for engaging with schools/colleges, with employers thinking that it was a ‘good thing to do’, and/or that it facilitated local community engagement.

More than half of all engaged employers had undertaken some type of activity in the last half-year. Main reasons for a lack of more regular engagement were threefold: lack of time and resources; unwillingness of schools (unable or not interested); and the age restriction preventing employment of staff under the age of 18 years. Approximately half of all engaged employers indicated that these activities had not had any benefit to their business.

Approximately half of all employers surveyed had never engaged with schools or colleges. Nearly all indicated that they were not interested in linking with schools or colleges in the future, because of lack of time and resources; financial reasons, and/or barriers created by health and safety and insurance regulations. Some stated that they could not see any potential benefit to their businesses of this activity.

COMMENTS:

So we come to the only survey whose methodology tasked it with gaining views from both sides of the conundrum. The mix of survey and interview results allows for both some headline percentages and some longer form answers to emerge across the reports 140 (!) pages. The most striking aspect of the findings is how well they agree with the answers from one side (education) and much they disagree with the results from the other (business). It would seem that asking CEIAG folk in schools gets you a pretty positive picture about the work they do. Who would guess? On the other hand, the large disparity between the amount of employers involved in engagement activities (and those wanting to be involved) in these findings and the CBI results is noticeable. From a similar number of employers, the differences are pretty big; the CBI says 74% offered work experience while here only 32%, the CBI says 71% had performed careers talks while here the figure is a measly 7%.

5. REPORT: UK Commission’s Employer Skills Survey 2013: UK Results – January 2014

SCALE: Fieldwork for the core survey was undertaken between March and July 2013, and involved over 91,000 interviews. Fieldwork for the follow-up Investment in Training Survey was undertaken in May to July 2013, and involved more than 13,000 interviews with employers who had taken part in the first survey. An overall response rate of 44 per cent was achieved for the core survey.

HEADLINE STATISTICS/SUMMARY QUOTES:

The main obstacle to (more) young people getting new jobs is competition in the market place. Half of recruiting employers who had not recruited young job applicants had opted instead for older candidates who were better placed; in this instance young people who applied for these jobs may have been suitable, but the recruiters opted for a candidate over the age of 25 to fill the role. Where young applicants were not considered to meet the requirements of the role, the main reasons cited were lack of skills and experience, and sometimes both. Three in five recruiting employers (61 per cent) who had not recruited a young person said they had had no applications from young people.

Most employers find the education leavers they take on to be well or very well prepared for work, although as many as four in ten employers taking on school leavers at 16 from schools in England, Northern Ireland or Wales described the recruits as poorly prepared

Where employers considered young applicants not to meet requirements, the majority (63 per cent) said they lacked the necessary skills and 61 per cent relevant work experience. Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said they lacked both.

COMMENTS: 

This is a huge piece of work and covers a much wider remit than just school/employer interaction which is why the Executive Summary is such a godsend. It is the oldest of the reports as the scale of the survey means it is only carried out every two years and data is currently being collected for the next one.

What it does add to this post though is a scale of respondents not seen in all of the other reports and a divergent view. The much more positive view (still with room for improvements) of the employability skills of young people from employers is at odds with the more downbeat findings of the CBI. The context around these findings and the steps that should be taken to improve the chances of young people finding work were covered brilliantly in this blog at the time. If it’s work experience they lack, offer young people the chance to gain it. As we’ve seen, the CBI says the business community is doing this, the education community and the report from BiS seem less convinced.

OVERALL:

As I hope you’ve seen, finding the balance of truth in all of this is tricky. Out of five reports, only one bridges the divide between employers and schools and spoke to both sides of the fence. Where only one side was consulted, the simplistic take is that the home view is always that most things are rosey and there is plenty of goodwill to find further improvements. Of course it’s not that simple, the CDI report is not afraid to point out where it thinks schools are failing and the CBI report consistently says that businesses should be doing more to work with education. Perhaps though the lesson for policy makers should be that, when making policy decisions in this area in future, they should be more demanding for data work that bridges the divide and takes views from a balance across both sides of the employers/schools fence.

Let’s be clear about work experience for under 18s

It’s at this point of the academic year that one of the biggest frustrations of the job is in full effect for me. Namely, the short shift some of our Year 10 students receive when approaching employers about work experience placements due to the insistence that the company doesn’t offer placements to under 18s due to “insurance reasons.”

There seems to be no rhyme or reason between those who accept students, those who decline and the type of workplace environment involved.  Local aircraft engineering companies such as Gulfstream and Monarch go out of their way to offer us fantastic opportunities where students will be properly supervised working around mechanics and heavy equipment while retailers such as JD Sports and PC World decline to engage. Some of those businesses will genuinely believe that there is a special circle of Hell reserved just for the form filling needed to let anyone under the age of 18 into your place of work and some will just use it as a quick excuse (“If we let one do it, then it opens the floodgates!” they say, seemingly oblivious that the world’s 7 billion people aren’t turning up every morning expecting a paycheck despite the fact they do employ at least some of them). For those schools who still commit to providing Key Stage 4 work experience this belief and casual excuse is the biggest threat to securing worthwhile placements for their students. It is part of wider issue covered in-depth recently by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills in their report “Not Just Making Tea” in which they state that “74% of employers claim experience is significant or critical when recruiting young people. But despite the high demand for experience, just 27% of employers offer young people the chance to gain work experience.”

As Careers folk, we must shout this louder.

There are no “special insurances” that are needed to offer work experience to under 18s.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/youngpeople/workexperience/placeprovide.htm

Under health and safety law, work experience students are your employees. You treat them no differently to other young people you employ.

There is no onerous mountain of paperwork to be conquered.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/youngpeople/workexperience/cutting-bureaucracy.htm

Schools and colleges or others organising placements need to check the employer has risk management arrangements in place. Conversations between the placement organiser and the employer could simply be noted for reference.

In fact, the Government have paid special attention to make this all as clear and straight forward as possible so that work experience could realistically be one of the core components of the 16-19 Study Programmes.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-16-work-experience-as-a-part-of-16-to-19-study-programmes

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ministers-to-end-work-experience-health-and-safety-confusion

Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, said

There is no need for lots of paperwork or an over-cautious approach. Employers who are already managing the risks in their business effectively for employees are unlikely to need to do anything in addition for work experience. Schools and colleges just need to ask a few questions to ascertain that appropriate measures are in place. There is no need to conduct their own risk assessments

And, always remember, that the aims of work experience are fully supported by leading Business groups who want schools to engage with these sort of schemes.

http://www.cbi.org.uk/campaigns/getting-the-uk-working/making-young-people-job-ready/

Here is the official HSE leaflet you could print and distribute to your students and parents and use yourself when approaching employers.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg364.pdf

Of course, some businesses will have had a poor experience in the past with a student, or won’t feel there are suitable tasks for a young person and some simply won’t be sure they have the capacity to properly supervise the student and, when they explain why they don’t offer placements, I listen, I try to encourage them to reconsider, I leave my contact details and (hopefully, however small) at least a moment of consideration to the idea. But at least they explain their reasoning and it’s based on experience and reality. Not a false idea of a barrier that doesn’t even exist. However long the journey may be to persuade more employers that this is indeed the case, we can do some of the legwork to persuade, cajole and engage.